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Get Alaska statewide news from the stations of the Alaska Public Radio Network (APRN). With a central news room in Anchorage and contributing reporters spread across the state, we capture news in the Voices of Alaska and share it with the world. Tune in to your local APRN station in Alaska, visit us online at APRN.ORG or subscribe to the Alaska News podcast right here. These are individual news stories, most of which appear in Alaska News Nightly (available as a separate podcast).
Updated: 57 min 26 sec ago

Rohn Buser Crowned K300 Champion

Mon, 2014-01-20 18:15

Twenty-four-year-old Rohn Buser of Big Lake won the K300 Sled Dog Race on Sunday crossing the finish line in Bethel at 9:18 a.m.

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Rohn beat out Jeff King by seven minutes after battling out for the last 100 miles. Buser took the lead when King had trouble finding the trail in the dark where some markers were missing.

“I figured he’d try to catch me so I had to push a little bit myself because I know his team has a lot of speed too but my guys….they went fast,” Buser said.

While looking for the trail, 58-year-old King says his dogs tangled up on glare ice. But he says that can be the way it goes when you’re leading the race.

“Because that’s where you find out where the problems are and I ran smack into one and by the time we got her fixed I was a big knot and my snaps were all covered with ice and I couldn’t get them untangled and Rohn zoomed right on by,” King said.

Conditions were everything but cold this year with temperatures mostly above freezing. Teams traversed bare tundra, glare ice, and over 100 miles of water-covered river. Nearly all mushers called it a tough race including third place finisher Cim Smyth who is 37.

“The biggest challenge was all that water going from Bogus to Kalskag that first night, it was just horrendous,” Smyth said. “You never knew how deep it was going to be and you just had to go find out by going in it.”

“My feet are all clean now, I don’t have to wash them (laughs),” 10th place finisher Tony Browning who is 56-years-old said. “It was a tough trail all the way around. Swam all the way up and most of the way back. And then bounced across the moguls the rest of the time.”

Fourth place finisher Paul Gebhart lost the back part of his sled going over bare tundra in the first 25 miles. The 57-year-old says he saw other musher’s sled-parts along the trail too.

“It was really bumpy,” Gebhart said. “Fortunately I salvaged my cooler before it broke off and then I drug it along up to Tuluksak.”

But Browning says it’s just what mushers expect when they sign up for the K300.

“This is the best race going. You don’t just race your competitors, you got to race the weather too, all the elements,” Browning said. “That’s what cross country, mid-distance is all about.”

Twenty-four teams competed this year.

Categories: Alaska News

With Drop Bags Delivered, Yukon Quest Mushers are One Step Closer to Race Day

Mon, 2014-01-20 18:14

Mike Ellis spent more than a week organize food and gear for his drop bags. Photo by Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks.

On Saturday, volunteers with the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race gathered drop bags from mushers in both Whitehorse and Fairbanks.

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Over the next two weeks, race personnel will deliver the bags to nine checkpoints along the 1,000 mile trail. Packing more than 1,500 pounds of food and gear for a remote sled dog race is a long, logistically-challenging process.

 

Fairbanks Musher Mike Ellis will run the Yukon Quest for the 6th time in 2014. Photo by Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks.

“So you get your beef and your kibble and your snacks and there all the heavy stuff down there on the bottom,” Fairbanks Musher Mike Ellis said.

Ellis spent more than a week filling large white bags with all the things he needs along the Yukon Quest trail.

“And then a glove bag so I’ve got nice dry warm gloves,” he said. “I always throw some hand warmers in because it’s bound to be 50 below somewhere on the Quest.”

We’re standing inside his guest cabin.  Various piles of food and gear cover the floor and fill the corners.  Across the yard, boxes filled with all different kinds of things sit on the front porch of his house.

“That looks like the burrito box – about 10 different kinds of burritos made up – breakfast burritos,” Ellis said.

There’s been gear spread all over the place for a week or two.  Behind us, white ice cube trays were also stacked high along the outside wall of his house.

“Those are electrolyte cubes that get sent out for the dogs if it gets really warm,” Ellis said.

If it gets really warm.  Ellis and a team of charismatic Siberian huskies will start the race for the sixth time this year.  He’s run the Quest enough to know he should be prepared for anything.  It’s kind of a logistical nightmare.  When the weather is warm, dogs need more water.  If it’s super cold, they’ll want more fat.  So, Ellis has to pack two different kinds of food.

“Fish and chicken skins,” Ellis said. “If it’s warm, I’m feeding the fish and if it’s cold I’m feeding the chicken skins and one or the other of them is just going to get set aside and you know that right off the bat.”

Sled dogs also go through some big changes as they travel farther down the trail.

“In the beginning of the race, you’re feeding a lot more protein and then at the end of the race, or middle to end of the race you’re feeding  lot more fat because the dog’s metabolism changes and shifts to burning fat,” Ellis said.

So, drop bags Mike Ellis packs for the beginning of the race are different from those waiting for him at checkpoints near the end. There’s also human food in those bags.  Ellis says he’s learned over the years that there are some things he just can’t leave home without.

Cody Strathe’s gear bags are filled with firestarters and fist aid items for dogs. Photo by Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks.

“I used to go off coffee for the race and I find that messes me up way more than staying on it for the race,” Ellis said. “I eat a lot more bread and carbs on the race. I used to think I was a little more doggy, and able to just eat fat the whole way and that wasn’t very kind to my body.”

There’s also one food in particular that’s become wildly popular among mushers in recent years.

“Candied bacon.  Yeah I don’t even think it’s possible to go down the Quest trail without that stuff,” Fairbanks musher Cody Strathe said. “It’s so true.  Sometimes at the beginning of the race you don’t really want it, but by the end of the race you just crave it ,that’s all you want.”

He also spent the last week frantically piecing together his drop bags for a second run down the Quest trail.  He’s standing in front of a freezer in his arctic entryway.  It’s stuffed full of food prepared by friends.

“We’ve got peanut butter bars, and peanut butter cookies and smoothies!” Strathe said.

Outside the house, a giant meat saw ran all week.  Strathe and his handlers cut countless, 50-pound frozen blocks of beef, lamb and other meat into chunks for his dog team.  They also sliced up chunks of fish.

Aside from all the food, mushers also stuff drop bags with extra runner plastic and other parts for their sleds. They also have to pack required gear like dog booties.  According to the race rules, mushers must have eight booties for every dog on the trail.  Back inside, there are rows of bags stuffed with booties sitting on Strathe’s couch.  He’ll also bring along extra boots, boot liners and socks for his own feet.

“I’ve got enough socks to have a fresh pair of socks at every check point,” Strathe said.

Ziploc bags filled with first aid items cover Strathe’s kitchen countertop.

“I’ve got stuff for vet care in here,” Strathe said. “I carry homemade fire starters with wax and sawdust so in case I get in trouble, I can start a fire real quick; matches, lighter, lithium batteries for my headlamps.”

In the end, he packed roughly 40 drop bags for the Yukon Quest.  Mike Ellis says he usually sends out 35.  But neither musher wants to consider the cost of all this food and gear.

“This time of year, we try not to look at it because it’s too depressing,” Ellis said. “It’s a lot, I don’t even want to think about it really!”

Yukon Quest staff and volunteers will deliver drop bags from the 19 mushers signed up for the race to various checkpoints along the route.  The 31st Yukon Quest starts in Fairbanks on Feb. 1.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: January 20, 2014

Mon, 2014-01-20 18:03

Individual news stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn.

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Legislature Prepares To Gavel In

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Tuesday, the Legislature gavels back in, and for lawmakers things look a lot different than they did last January. There’s no oil tax legislation to tackle, and the state’s budget outlook is not quite as rosy as it’s been in past years. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez will be heading up our capitol coverage, and she’s here today to talk to us about what’s at stake over the next few months.

Begich Takes Stand Against Pebble Mine

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich has taken a definitive stand against the Pebble Mine. He told the Anchorage Daily News over the weekend that he can’t support the proposed mine in Southwestern Alaska. In doing so, he’s broken away from the rest of Alaska’s congressional delegation and his three Republican challengers.

Thayer Named Administration Commissioner

The Associated Press

Curtis Thayer has been named commissioner for the Alaska Department of Administration.

Legislative Session Gives Juneau Businesses Temporary Boost

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Dozens of lawmakers and their staffers are relocating to the capitol city for Tuesday’s start of the legislative session. Lobbyists and reporters will also spend at least part of the 90 day session in Juneau. The temporary population influx provides an important revenue boost to many local businesses.

Alaskans Celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Alaskans celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior’s birthday with songs and remarks from state and local leaders.

Rohn Buser Crowned K300 Champion

Angela Denning-Barnes, KYUK – Bethel

Twenty-four-year-old Rohn Buser of Big Lake won the Kuskokwim 300 Sled Dog Race on Sunday crossing the finish line in Bethel at 9:18 a.m.

With Drop Bags Delivered, Yukon Quest Mushers are One Step Closer to Race Day

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

On Saturday, volunteers with the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race gathered drop bags from mushers in both Whitehorse and Fairbanks.  Over the next two weeks, race personnel will deliver the bags to nine checkpoints along the 1,000 mile trail. Packing more than 1,500 pounds of food and gear for a remote sled dog race is a long, logistically-challenging process.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Attorneys Give Free Legal Advice for MLK Jr. Day

Mon, 2014-01-20 17:45

Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage.

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Anchorage attorneys provided free legal services at the Mountain View Community Center in Anchorage.

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Krista Scully is the Pro Bono Director at the Alaska Bar Association. She helps organize the event, which is in its fifth year.

“So what we’re looking at right now is room of about 30 tables and close to 50 attorney volunteers that are all meeting with clients that have issues ranging from family law, landlord tenant, public benefits, some criminal matters and various housing issues,” Scully said.

Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage.

The event is a public service project of the Alaska Bar Association, Alaska Court System and Alaska Legal Services Corporation. Attorneys meet with clients for free for 15 to 20 minutes to discuss legal issues.

In those five years, Scully says the event has served more than 1,200 clients. Jonathan Katcher is an attorney who has volunteered at the event all five years. He says it’s part of a trend to give back to your community on the holiday.

“As a national trend people are starting to consider this day not just as a holiday or a day off but as a day of public service that’s consistent with the philosophy and ideas that Martin Luther King represented that we’re all just trying to carry forward in our own way,” Katcher said.

Katcher says the event is a small way to help close the justice gap in Alaska. Booker Lenoir came to the event to get advice on a custody issue. He was pleased with the service.

“They gave me real good advice. You ask a lot of questions and they’re forward and on hand with you. And I like that about that. Cause most lawyers charge fees,” Lenoir said. “So this was a good thing to come actually not to pay for that sitting cost to talk to a lawyer.”

Similar events took place in Juneau and Fairbanks. There is more information about free legal resources around the state on the website of the Alaska Bar Association.

Categories: Alaska News

Panel Will Target Tongass Plan Rewrite, Timber Transition

Mon, 2014-01-20 12:21

The Forest Service is setting up an advisory board to help rewrite the Tongass National Forest’s management plan. It’s somewhat similar to another panel that shut down last year without completing its work.

Tongass managers have a couple big jobs ahead of them.

A dog explores part of the Tongass National Forest’s Treadwell Ditch Trail on Douglas Island, part of Juneau. Photo by Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska News.

They’re reviewing and updating the land-management plan for the 17-million-acre forest. They’re also working on a roadmap for a transition from old-growth to young-growth timber harvests.

So, the agency has decided to recruit 15 people for an advisory committee.

Tongass Supervisor Forrest Cole says they’ll take about a year developing proposals for the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and the chief of the Forest Service.

“What we’re really trying to do is find folks who have experience working in collaborative groups, knowledge regarding Southeast Alaska issues and willingness to work closely together (and) come up with a solution,” Cole says.

They’ll include representatives of the industry, state and federal agencies, environmental groups and tribal organizations.

That sounds a lot like the Tongass Futures Roundtable, a larger group with a somewhat similar mission. It began around seven years ago and shut down last spring after some timber and environmental groups quit.

Cole says it broke ground that should ease the way for the advisory panel.

“We had never had all of the interests in Southeast Alaska sit down in the same year together. So it was a fairly lengthy process, probably three of the six years it was around, it took to get people to physically be able to sit in a room, have a conversation and listen to diverse opinions,” Cole says.

“Collaboration is the watchword,” says former Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho, who moderated the group and tried to keep it moving forward.

“Even though the roundtable did not perhaps achieve a lot of what it had initially set out to do, it created I think a climate of discussion between parties who needed to be talking to each other but historically did not,” he says.

Roundtable organizers hoped to develop a comprise to ongoing Tongass timber battles. But Cole says it did more than meet.

“There was a bridge timber proposal that was put together by Tongass Futures that got us out of a number of heavily-litigated projects and provided timber along the way to keep the current industry alive,” he says.

The Southeast Conference, a regional development organization, was part of the roundtable. But it joined the exodus of timber and state government representatives that led to its dissolution.

The conference last year proposed its own Tongass management plan. Leaders hope to advance that as part of the advisory group’s discussions.

“I’m excited about it. I guess I should say I’m ready for another round, because you just can’t stop trying,” says Shelly Wright, conference executive director.

She says the new panel has a better chance of succeeding.

“The roundtable really was not (an) official advisory group, so I think it may be a little bit different. The undersecretary has actually said this is for his information, so I think that’s going to give it a little more weight, so to speak,” she says.

Those interested in joining the Tongass Advisory Committee need to apply by February 27th. Details are here.

Cole says the Forest Service will chose members using its own standards.

“They’ll work among themselves to see if they can come up with a consensus-based recommendation that the Forest Service will take under advisement to further along the transition or the forest-plan modification,” he says.

But he doesn’t expect to make absolutely everybody involved in these issues happy.

“In fact there’s a number of federal advisory committees that have been established that never came to fruition. So there’s still a possibility that we can’t get a recommendation out of this group. And if not, we’ll proceed on.

He says the panel’s work will not delay the review of the land-management plan. That’s expected to be completed in 2016.

Categories: Alaska News

Southeast Commercial Halibut Catch Increased For 2014

Mon, 2014-01-20 11:52

Southeast Alaska’s commercial halibut catch limit is going up.

The International Pacific Halibut Commission concluded its annual meeting Friday in Seattle and approved catch limits for Alaska, British Columbia, and the West Coast of the U.S.

The combined commercial and charter catch for Southeast’s Area 2C will be 4.16 million pounds. That includes a commercial catch limit of 3,318,720 pounds, that’s an increase of about 11 percent from last year. Southeast is the only area that will see an increased catch from 2013.

The commission also approved a catch sharing plan recommended by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and implemented by federal fishery managers for Southeast and the central Gulf. That’s a first. The catch sharing plan allocates pounds to the charter fleet and replaces the old system of a guideline harvest level for charter anglers. It’ll also allow annual purchases of commercial quota by the charter fleet.

That plan will mean a limit of over 761,000 pounds to the Southeast charter fleet for 2014. As a result, charter clients will have a one-fish daily bag limit in Southeast with what’s called a “reverse slot limit.” Charter anglers in the Panhandle can keep a fish up to 44 inches, or 76 inches and longer, but not anything between those lengths.

Coast-wide the commissioners did not go with the roughly 30 percent catch reduction as presented by staff in December. The so-called “blue line” numbers, presented to the commission by staff, applies long-standing harvest percentages to the estimated legal-sized halibut for each regulatory area. Instead the commission approved a larger coastwide catch limit of over 27 and a half million pounds.

U.S. Commissioner Jim Balsiger, regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries in Alaska, called it the toughest halibut commission meeting he’s attended.

“We’re in a trying position with the resource, the halibut resource not rebuilding as rapidly as we’d like it to,” Balsiger said. “We have some issues with that. I think it is important to note, and we went over this earlier but, the decision table which contains the blue line, the entire table contains recommendations from the staff on how to set the catch limits.”

“Where we operate in that decision table is really a reflection of the conservative nature of the various halibut commissioners, because they’re all valid positions it just depends on how much risk is deemed appropriate, how much conservatism has to be cranked into those tables.”

The commercial catch in area 3A, the central gulf, will see a big cut this year, about 33 percent, down to 7.3 million pounds. And the charter fleet’s limit in the gulf was set at 1.7 million pounds. Charter clients there will have a two fish daily bag limit with a 29 inch limit on a second fish.

The commercial and sport catch in British Columbia will see a small reduction, but not the 29 percent cut initially considered in the “blue line” number presented by IPHC staff.

The commission approved a season start date of March 8 and fishing will be open through Nov. 7.

Categories: Alaska News

Project Aims to Turn Homer Into Tidal Energy Testing Site

Mon, 2014-01-20 11:36

Work is continuing on Homer’s Tidal Energy Incubator Project. Those involved, which includes scientists from around the state and University of Alaska engineering students, are trying to find out if they can turn tides into electricity sold on the market. They’ve been studying the tides near Homer’s Deep Water Dock.

Some of the equipment that’s been installed at Homer’s Deepwater Dock. Photo courtesy of the Tidal Energy Incubator Project.

“And the question is, why Kachemak Bay,” said State Representative Paul Seaton. “Well, we have strong tidal currents in here. Not the strongest in the world, but… they fit that realm where there’s docks all around the state that have the kind of tidal velocity that we have. So, if we can develop technology that works here, it will work in numerous places.”

And that’s the project in a nutshell. Seaton told the Homer City Council during its Monday night meeting that the hope is to turn Homer into a testing site for the technology and attract hi-tech industries.

Kris Holderied is a physical oceanographer with NOAA. She said the tidal conditions around the deep water dock could translate into a sort of cookie-cutter approach for other areas around the state and beyond.

“This provides the place to be able to test technology or to create things that we don’t even know about yet. We can’t even imagine yet. We’ve got the right place to do that for applications to a lot of places around the state and on the west coast and the northeast,” she said.

Seaton said the existing infrastructure in and around Homer also helps make this location attractive to researchers or companies.

Holderied said the existing data about Kachemak Bay concerning the shape of the bottom, the currents and the habitat also is a draw.

“So if you want to come and you want to develop something, you already have all this information,” she said.

Photo courtesy of the Tidal Energy Incubator Project.

She said the education component is key, too. After the Homer City Council appropriated a $100,000 reimbursable grant for the project, the city basically “hired” a group of UAA students and their professor to create a 35 percent design for the project. This will be used as part of the requirements for their engineering degrees. They were in Homer early last year to tour the dock and give a presentation at City Hall.

“This whole concept of bringing bright, excited minds to this challenge and creating something that does not exist now, you saw it when those students were in this room,” Holderied said.

Seaton said the group has enough information at this point to start seeking out developers to help gauge interest in the project. That includes the ability to show how fish interact with the devices.

“One of the biggest problems that we’re going to have, and you can’t do it in the Upper Inlet and you can’t do it in these muddy rivers, is see how whatever device is tapping the energy interacts with salmon,” he said.

He said without that information there’s no way to move forward with the project.

Categories: Alaska News

Spending Bill Includes $75 Million For Fisheries Disaster Assistance

Fri, 2014-01-17 18:04

Alaska’s congressional delegation has been churning out press releases to trumpet Alaska-bound funds in the trillion-dollar spending bill President Obama is expected to sign Saturday.

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Among them is $75 million in fisheries disaster assistance. That could bring help to Alaskans who lost out in the failed 2012 commercial king salmon fisheries on the Yukon, Kuskokwim and Cook Inlet. But Ciaran Clayton, a spokeswoman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, says fishing communities in New England, the mid-Atlantic, the Gulf Coast and Samoa are also eligible.

“NOAA and our parent agency, the Department of Commerce, will be working with each individual state’s governor’s offices and industry folks on next step for allocation of that funding,” Clayton said.

The money could ultimately go out as direct aid to fishermen but also on retraining, infrastructure or projects to prevent a future fish disaster.

Alaska’s congressional delegation had been pressing for $150 million in fish disaster funds. Among the other projects they’re highlighting in the spending bill: More than $100 million for construction of aviation buildings at Fort Wainwright and $82 million for a building at Fort Greely. The bill includes $10 million for the Denali Commission.

Categories: Alaska News

US, Russia Drafting Voluntary Bering Strait Passage Regulations

Fri, 2014-01-17 18:03

Vessel traffic is increasing through the Bering Strait, and no regulations exist to monitor that movement. The United States Coast Guard wants to change that.

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No country owns the Bering Strait waters, and no international law manages vehicle movement through the passage. As ice melts and traffic increases, this absence of regulation creates hazardous conditions for vessels.

United States Coast Guard Admiral Thomas Ostebo says the growing risk is his primary concern for the Arctic.

“There is no traffic light. There’s no traffic lane. There’s no northbound on this side, southbound over on this side reporting in requirements at all for going through the Bering Strait,” Ostebo said.

With no standard routing or reporting requirements, the risk for accidents increases.

Last year, Ostebo says, the Bering Strait saw the largest number of ship and cargo traffic in the strait’s history and the Coast Guard expects an even higher rate this year. In fact, international traffic is projected to reach such heights that Ostebo compares the Bering Strait to the Panama Canal in future global use and status.

“A major international strait that’s emerging—I would submit the biggest one since the Panama Canal,” Ostebo said. “It’s happening right in front of us.”

To implement preventative measures, the Coast Guard and its Russian counterpart are drafting voluntary regulations for passage through the Bering Strait. Ostebo says the voluntary agreement would become standard practice through insurers incorporating the measures as terms and conditions in their policies.

“Clearly, if you’re in the shipping business and you’re not following best practice standard, although it’s voluntary, and if you have a problem, culpability follows shortly behind that from a legal perspective,” Ostebo said.

The voluntary system would serve as a placeholder until the International Martine Organization passed laws to govern the strait, a process expected to take many years.

Ostebo says the United States is sponsoring the law and is seeking support from Russia to help the move the ruling forward.

Categories: Alaska News

Early Bills Tackle Lawsuits, Medical Care

Fri, 2014-01-17 18:02

With the legislative session getting ever closer, lawmakers have released another batch of bills for consideration.

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The second round of early bills is smaller than the one released last week, with fewer than 20 bills filed. There don’t seem to be any big-money bills or sweeping reforms among them. Most instead deal with specific situations.

In the House, a few bills concern health care, lawsuits, and the intersection of the two. One bipartisan piece of legislation would create a directory of living wills. Another bill would make it so that a health-care provider’s apology couldn’t be admissible evidence in a malpractice case. On the other end of the spectrum, there’s a bill that would give parents the right to sue if someone’s at fault for the death of an unborn child. That includes language excepting abortions and deaths caused in the course of standard medical care.

There is also a bill in the House to limit what sort of data could be collected on students. A different item would create a simple taxpayer receipt of what the state spends its money on, to be issued when Permanent Fund dividend checks are sent out. Rounding that all out is legislation to ban genetically engineered crops in the state, to license private investigators, and to regulate drones.

Only two bills were introduced in the Senate. One would allow officers to leave parking tickets on windshields, a practice the Legislature unintentionally banned in 2010. The other would reject pay raises for the governor and his commissioners.

Categories: Alaska News

Signatures Submitted for Minimum Wage Initiative

Fri, 2014-01-17 18:01

Sponsors of an initiative to raise Alaska’s minimum wage have turned in their signatures. They submitted 43,000 names to the Division of Election’s Anchorage office on Friday morning.

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The initiative would raise the minimum wage from $7.75 to $8.75 at first, and then there would be another bump up to $9.75 in 2016. The initiative also builds in future increases to counteract inflation. Basically, the minimum wage would be pegged to Anchorage’s consumer price index or it would be a dollar more than the federal minimum wage — whichever is higher.

Ed Flanagan is one of the primary sponsors of the initiative and a former labor commissioner. He says Alaska should have a higher minimum wage than most states because of the cost of living.

“We don’t necessarily have to be the highest in the country, but we sure as heck shouldn’t be 17th behind Florida and Arizona,” says Flanagan.

With signatures in, Flanagan says the group will be focusing more on fundraising and advertising. When the year closed, “Alaskans for a Fair Minimum Wage” had just $10,000 in cash on hand. And with lots of other big-money races this year, they’ll need a lot more than that to compete for airtime.

In the short-term, Flanagan isn’t worried about other groups opposing the minimum wage increase. He’s more concerned about the initiative being preempted by the Legislature, which happened the last time a citizen effort like this was attempted. In 2002, state lawmakers passed a bill that resembled a minimum wage initiative under consideration, but then they went back and stripped out the measures tying the pay rate to inflation.

“We have to be ready for that with a lot of advertising and explaining to people why a vote for a minimum wage bill right now is not a good thing. It’s a bad thing,” says Flanagan.

The Legislature reconvenes on Tuesday, and so far there are no minimum wage bills under consideration.

If at least 30,000 of the signatures are valid, the initiative should appear on the August primary ballot.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Ranks 5th In Millionaires Per Capita

Fri, 2014-01-17 18:00

In a count of millionaires per capita, Alaska ranks fifth among states, according to a market research firm that tracks affluence.

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Phoenix Marketing International estimated investable assets per household, based on commercial surveys, the Census and other data. Alaska has risen from 14th place in 2006, to land just below Hawaii.

The study, though, points to Washington D.C. as the capital of wealth. The District of Columbia and the two states it borders were all in the top 10, with Maryland the state with the most per capita millionaires for the third year in a row. Mississippi was at the bottom of the list.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska’s Population Grows By 3.7 Percent In Three Years

Fri, 2014-01-17 17:59

Alaska’s population growth is increasing faster than that of the rest of the country. Figures released Friday by the state labor department indicate that the state’s population increased 3.7 percent over the past three years, compared with a 2.4 growth rate in the US.

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The largest increases were in Anchorage and the Matanuska Susitna Borough, according to Eddie Hunsinger, the state demographer with the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development

“So each year we make population estimates for population by age, and sex and race and ethnicity for the state. And the Mat Su has increasing racial diversity, as does the state as a whole. The fastest growing racial groups in Alaska are Asian and Pacific Islanders, as well as Hispanic Alaskans. Alaska has continued to become a more diverse state in terms of race and ethnicity.”

 Between April of 2010 and July of 2013, Anchorage gained some 9, 308 people, and the Mat Su gained 7,079 residents.

“The people who are moving to the Mat Su are either young people from Anchorage or young people from down South. And these folks are often at the beginning of starting families or they have young families, so they are not just getting the gains from the people who move there, but also from their future families and the kids they bring with them. “

Hunsinger says who is moving into the Mat Su Borough has implications for the future.

“Very often, the young families and folks in their mid -to -late twenties and up into their forties are the folks with the highest participation in the work force, and so that is certainly beneficial to the Mat Su. We do have further data on what sorts of jobs and occupations and industries the people in the Mat Su are involved i

Hunsinger says a large number of births accounted for some of the growth in the Mat Su. He says about 5 to 10 thousand people a year move into Mat Su and about an equal number move out, leaving a net gain of about 1500 people every year.

The labor department keeps tabs on age and ethnicity demographics for the state’s economic regions, cities and census areas.  Complete estimates for the state’s population centers are available on the department’s Research and Analysis Section website.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Health Campus Proposed To Handle Anchorage’s Homeless

Fri, 2014-01-17 17:58

A recent editorial in the Anchorage Daily News proposes addressing chronic inebriation and the moribund area of east 4th avenue as the way forward for a more vibrant downtown. These ideas have been on the table before, but not from the person charged with championing the city as a great place to visit and do business. Andrew Halcro is a former state lawmaker and the current President of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce. Rather than glossing over the city’s ongoing problems, he proposes a health campus to deal head on with homeless people and chronic drunks.

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Categories: Alaska News

2014 Kuskokwim 300 Brings Past Champions And New Trail

Fri, 2014-01-17 17:57

Twenty-four mushers, including six past champions will be at the starting line for the 35th running of the Kuskokwim 300.

The start is scheduled for 6:30 this evening, but an incoming winter storm could hold up the race.

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Former K300 champion Martin Buser celebrates with his dogs after his 2007 championship. Photo by Christ Pike.

The race’s food and staff had not been flown to checkpoints as of Thursday night. Crews may be able to drive out supplies. The race is expected to make a decision on delaying the start by early Friday afternoon.

Jeff King will attempt to defend his 2013 title and earn his record 10th victory wearing bib number 10. Past champions Martin Buser and son Rohn Buser are back, along with winners John Baker, Ramey Smyth, and Paul Gebhardt.

The 300-mile race from Bethel to Aniak and back will not follow the river for the first 50 miles. An unusually warm winter has made travel on the river unreliable and at times, dangerous. The trail will instead go across the tundra for the first 50 miles to the checkpoint of Tuluksak before going back on the river to Aniak.

Akiak musher Mike Williams Senior has run the race two dozen times and says the icy trails slowed his preparation.

“It has been a real terrible with no snow, raining all winter long, we had to be forced to go on the 4-wheeler because the conditions were so bad,” said Williams.

There is reported to be more snow and better trail upriver, and a few inches of snow this week improved the trail base. But that trail could change dramatically over the next couple days. A blizzard warning is in effect. That warm winter storm is forecast to bring above freezing temperatures that could drop a half foot of snow, plus there’s a chance of freezing rain and ice accumulation near Bethel. Mushers could face 30 to 40 mile an hour headwinds on Friday.

Besides the altered race route, new to 2014 is a change in layover rules. Instead of taking a 6-hour rest in Kalskag or Aniak, mushers will be able to split up those 6 hours in one hour increments between the checkpoints. Bethel racer Pete Kaiser says he doesn’t expect it to be a major change.

“It’s such a small amount of rest that no matter how you slice it it’s still a hard race and it’s still just 6 hours. I think it will be exciting just to have something different and have a few different strategies unfold, but in the end, everyone is probably going to take the same amount of rest in the front,” said Kaiser.

Kaiser has been able to get some extra miles this year. He and Aniak racer Richie Diehl travelled to Nenana for a month for better trail conditions.There will be no checkpoint at Akiachak. The race board also chose to postpone the 65-mile Akiak dash, a popular race with local mushers.

The race carries a $110,000 purse. The winner takes home $22,000.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Girls Wrestling

Fri, 2014-01-17 17:56

Photo by Emily Forman, KCAW – Sitka.

Your high school might have had a wrestling team, but how many wrestlers were girls?

There are more than a dozen girls on Sitka’s Mt. Edgecumbe High School wrestling team, and they regularly beat boys in their weight class.

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The team is tackling more than just gender barriers; they’re paving the way for the first girls sanctioned wrestling tournament in the state of Alaska.

Deidre Creed is just a few pounds shy of one hundred. But don’t let her petite build and golden locks fool you. She is dangerous.

Photo by Emily Forman, KCAW – Sitka.

“I feel pain, but usually if you’re the one on top you’re the one inflicting the pain,” Creed said.

At a recent wrestling practice, DD faces her opponent. She crouches low with outstretched arms. When the whistle blows she lunges forward and hooks a knee, knocking her opponent to the ground. It’s over fast.

“I’d always feel good because I’d always be the underdog because I was the girl,” Creed said. “So it would always feel extra special to win.”

Since there isn’t a girls wrestling team, DD wrestles boys. She’s a senior and just competed in the last state tournament of her high school career. But, she hopes the younger girls on her team will someday compete in a girls-only season. This idea is not far-fetched. The Alaska School Activities board is reviewing a proposal to create a girls sanctioned tournament. If approved, it will be thanks to this guy.

“I’m Mike Kimber. I’m the wrestling coach at Mt. Edgecumbe High School.”

At practice, Kimber stands at the center of the mat, barking out drills. He’s wearing a T-shirt that says girl wrestlers rule.

Kimber has coached the Mt Edgecumbe wrestling team for 15 seasons. He started recruiting girls in his second year. While Mt. Edgecumbe isn’t the only team in Alaska with girls, they likely have the most. Kimber estimates he coaches 26 girls. Nineteen made it to regional’s.

“As a matter of fact my first nationally ranked wrestler was a girl,” Kimber said. “A young lady from cold bay named Sonia Maxwell. She qualified for the state tournament at 189 lbs against boys.”

Kimber is also a Mt Edgecumbe wrestling alumn. When he competed there were only a few girls on the team. Kimber remembers a time when schools would forfeit matches if girls came to wrestle. Now, there’s a lot less resistance. But, it’s still hard to shake the stereotypes.

Photo by Emily Forman, KCAW – Sitka.

“You know, I think probably the part that’s most surprising is, when you come around and see people and they go really girls wrestle?” Kimber said. “When we go on trips, ‘oh so you guys are managers’ and I say ‘no they’re wrestlers,’ ‘what do you mean they’re wrestlers?’”

Kimber loves the sport, and is adamant that it needs girls to grow. His father coached girls, and his daughter is a star wrestler.

He has high, but equal expectations for all his wrestlers. That kind of equality is appealing to the girls. They feel supported and challenged.

“I much rather enjoy coaching girls than the boys sometimes, people say there’s so much drama with girls, but really the drama on our team centers around the boys, and very little around the girls,” Kimber said.

The person that might have the most insight on how girls and boys approach the sport differently is DD’s twin brother, Trevor. The pair has been wrestling for as long as they can remember.

“I’m bigger I can muscle her around,” Trevor said. “So she has to trick me, maybe push my head in another direction. She has to use her mind more when she wrestles.”

It looks like girls wrestling is in Alaska’s future. Kimber was the first to petition the Alaska School Activities board to create a girls wrestling season. And at a board hearing in December Kimber and other coaches around Southeast made a compelling case. Andrew Friske, the Southeast representative on the Alaska School Activities Board, says the idea of girls wrestling really isn’t a hard sell.

“These are coaches that have been around for 15-20 years and they said it’s a no brainer for them to start girls wrestling,” Friske said. “They think with more girls there is going to be more boys that come out. It’s going to be a stronger program and breed success.”

But there are still some hurdles. And the board wants to make sure they weigh the financial implications, and logistics of a new state tournament.

In the end the board decided to back a proposal where girls would continue to compete against boys throughout the season, but the regional and state tournament would be girls sanctioned.

As for DD, she hopes to continue wrestling in college. Her performance at state caught the eye of recruiters, winning her an invitation to represent Alaska at this year’s Arctic Winter Games. That’s a first for a Mt. Edgecumbe girl wrestler.

Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Hooper Bay

Fri, 2014-01-17 17:55

This week we’re headed to Western Alaska to the village of Hooper Bay near the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta. Fred Joseph Jr. is the tribal administrator there.

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“My name is Fred Joseph Jr., I live in Hooper Bay and I’m the tribal administrator for the Native Village of Hooper Bay.

As far as I know it’s been here for thousands of years. We were originally located down at the beach and there were a few scattered camps all over. They built a school here a long time ago in what is known here now as the Village of Hooper Bay. They moved up here for the access to the river, and the schools and the churches.

There’s some seasonal work, fishing, hot-shot firefighting and construction in the summers. And there’s pretty permanent jobs here at the school and with the city and the Native Village of Hooper Bay and Sea Lion (Corp.) and CVRF. And the kids get to work in the summertime.

There are subsistence activities, some during the summer and some during the winter. There’s high school  activities going on in the winter time. And probably just walk around the tundra… going down to the beach in the summer-time. We like to meet up at the school in the winter time and watch some games.

Everybody just about knows each other and they work together. It’s nice – no hustle, bustle of the city. Life is hard but simple and we get by.”

Categories: Alaska News

Oil Spill Dispersants

Fri, 2014-01-17 13:00

Exxon Valdez tanker aground. Off-loading of remaining oil in progress. Photo courtesy of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council.

The response to the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico involved an unprecedented amount of chemical dispersants.  If such a spill were to occur in Alaska, the use of dispersants is pre-authorized in certain areas. Should it be?

HOST: Steve HeimelAlaska Public Radio Network

GUESTS:

  • Rick Bernhardt, Preparedness Section Manager, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation
  • Callers Statewide

PARTICIPATE:

  • Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
  • Send e-mail to talk [at] alaskapublic [dot] org (comments may be read on air)
  • Call 550-8422 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-8255 if you’re outside Anchorage during the live broadcast

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, January 21, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

SUBSCRIBE: Get Talk of Alaska updates automatically by e-mailRSS or podcast.

TALK OF ALASKA ARCHIVE

Categories: Alaska News

Is Alaska’s Economy Grounded?

Fri, 2014-01-17 11:34

World Trade Center Alaska Executive Director Greg Wolf says China is now the largest importer of goods from Alaska. Photo by Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau.

Alaska’s economy slowed in 2013. On Thursday, two economists offered different takes on what that means for this year at the World Trade Center Alaska‘s annual statewide economic forecast talk in Juneau.

Marcus Hartley ticked off how many jobs he expects various industries in Alaska to gain or lose in 2014.

“We see natural resources going up by 200 jobs; transportation and utilities going up by a little bit, a hundred jobs,” he said. “These are not big numbers, but they’re some winners.”

Hartley is a senior economist with Anchorage based consultants Northern Economics. He says other winners include health care, retail, and tourism.

And then there are the losers.

“Here’s my sector – professional business services – we’re saying that that sector is going to be hit pretty hard by government cutbacks,” said Hartley. “And then government is also very likely to lose jobs.”

“So total change, a whopping 450 jobs increase,” he said. “Not too bad. But really, if we’re in a big recovery, where’s all the jobs, dude?”

Hartley says reductions in state and federal spending, as well as the continued decline in North Slope oil production were behind a state economy that slowed in 2013. After several years of growth, he says, Alaska’s gross state product – a measure of total economic output – declined about $2 billion last year to $51 billion. He predicts it will be down another $1.8 billion this year to $49.2 billion.

“So the question is, are we grounded?” he asked

Hartley didn’t give a yes or no answer to that question. But he did say Northern Economics’ computer models painted an even bleaker picture of the state’s economic future.

“We basically threw out our models this year, because it was pessimistic,” Hartley said. “And we just didn’t feel like the world was going to jump off a cliff.”

World Trade Center Alaska Executive Director Greg Wolf was more bullish on the state’s economy. In 2013, he said companies operating in Alaska exported about $4.5 billion worth of goods and services overseas. He expects a similar amount this year.

“Trade represents new money coming into the economy,” Wolf said. “It sustains and results in thousands of both direct and indirect jobs. The overall effect, of course, it results in a stronger, more diversified economy for our state.”

In the past 20 years, Wolf says Alaska exports have more than doubled, from about $2 billion per year to between $4.5 and $5 billion.

“I think this sort of demonstrates that exports have been a pretty consistent part of the economy, and also a quietly growing part of the economy,” he said.

Wolf says Alaska’s biggest trade partners are in Asia. China buys about 28 percent of the goods exported from the state. Japan is second at 16 percent, followed by South Korea, Canada, and Singapore.

Seafood makes up about 50 percent of Alaska exports, followed by minerals and precious metals at 34 percent, energy – including liquefied natural gas, coal, and refined fuels – at 8 percent, and timber at 4 percent.

The Juneau Chamber of Commerce hosted the statewide economic forecast talk, which has been held in the Capital City for the past seven years. The economists were in Fairbanks earlier this week and will be in Anchorage on February 4th.

Categories: Alaska News

Fishing Crew Member Accused of Identity Theft

Fri, 2014-01-17 11:31

A crew member aboard a factory processor has been arrested in Unalaska and accused of stealing another man’s identity to get his commercial fishing license.

Just like rain gear or Xtratufs, commercial fishing crew licenses are essential for anyone working on a Bering Sea boat. And they’re pretty easy to get.

Robin Morrisett is a sergeant with the Alaska Wildlife Troopers. He says all it takes to get a crew permit, is a driver’s license and a Social Security number.

“Some people say, ‘Ooh, we didn’t know that the pursers or the chefs, the cooks on the boats are supposed to have it.’ But they do [have to],” Morrissett said.

Twenty-five-year-old Luis Valenzuela was a cook aboard the Gordon Jensen, a 300-foot factory trawler owned by Icicle Seafoods. When troopers boarded the vessel earlier this month for a routine check, Valenzuela showed them his crew license.

But trooper Thomas Lowy says something about it didn’t look right.

“We found that that driver’s license didn’t come back to him. It came to another individual,” Lowy said. ”And that’s kind of what started the whole process — just trying to figure out who he was.”

The troopers worked with federal immigrations officials, and according to their research, they say that Valenzuela is actually an undocumented immigrant from Nogales, Mexico.

Valenzuela was arrested in Unalaska and charged with felony forgery, along with two misdemeanors. One is for participating in commercial fishing as an undocumented immigrant. And the other is for criminal impersonation.

He faces up to seven years in jail and $75,000 in fines.

It’s not clear whether anyone else is going to face legal action. When Valenzuela started working on the fishing vessel Gordon Jensen, he got his commercial crew license from a vendor aboard the ship.

But the troopers say they have no reason to believe that Icicle Seafoods found anything wrong with Valenzuela’s papers.

And to make matters more complicated, Icicle didn’t actually hire Valenzuela. They went through a Sitka employment agency called Alaska Chefs 4 Hire.

Trooper Sergeant Morrisett says that contractor has been cooperating with the investigation. But they didn’t respond to a request for comment by deadline.

Morrisett says the last time the troopers handled a case of alleged identity fraud was about two years ago.

“Here in Dutch Harbor, we have tons of people that are from other countries and stuff,” Morrisett said. ”We catch these once in a while.”

And considering how many vessels the troopers patrol — and many crew permits they look at — every season, that’s not a lot.

Categories: Alaska News

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